Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2011
Regional Report

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Lorrie Gallagher keeps three bee hives in her small San Francisco garden.

Beekeeping 101

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, I have a simple and delicious remedy. Sneezing, itchy eyes and faucet nose will be nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

I don't remember where I first heard about using local honey to combat seasonal allergies, but it took me several years and many boxes of tissues to finally try it for myself. The subject of beekeeping came up at my local pool. One of the women I swim with keeps bees in her small San Francisco backyard garden. I asked her if she sold her honey and she said yes. She brought me a small jar of Visitation Valley honey and the results were nothing short of miraculous. My eyes, which only a few days before had been driving me wild with itching, settled down. One teaspoon of honey in the morning allows me to spend the day outdoors in comfort.

I made a visit to my friends home to see her hives in action. Lorrie Gallagher keeps European honeybees (Apis mellifera ligustica), which are gentle and known for their productivity. Lorrie explained to me that unlike humans, bees are not individuals but part of a colony, like ants. A bee will give its life for the health and well-being of the colony.

A little investigation told me that beekeeping is becoming very popular. There are beekeeping clubs all throughout California. Beginning beekeeping kits usually come with everything you need to set up beekeeping in your own back yard. Consider the benefits; not only do you get delicious honey made from local pollen to help protect you against seasonal allergies, but also insects to pollinate your trees and vegetables.

One buys bees from a bee breeder. There are many in California that service the rest of the country. One usually orders a 3 pound box of bees, which arrives via UPS. They arrive in a shoe-box size wire cage with 30,00 bees (approx.) and 1 queen. Lorri currently has three hives in her small backyard. She says that she hasn't ordered bees for many years because when her bees swarm, she collects them again. There is no need to purchase bees when she can collect swarms.

A hive should be placed in a sunny location protected from wind and away from high traffic areas. Ants are sometimes a problem, so the feet of the hive stand should be set in water-filled containers. A Bt dunk in the water will keep mosquitoes under control.

There are laws pertaining to bees, mostly to protect the bees, not people. San Francisco is a very liberal place that defends the right to keep bees, as long as one follows certain guidelines. In many states, you have to register your bees but not in California. There was a recent publicized victory for NYC beekeepers -- the city ruled that it's okay to keep bees. Now all of the beekeepers have come out of hiding.

Regarding extraction of the honey, Lorri borrows an electric extractor from the one owned by the SF Bee Club and kept at the Randall Museum, which is where she attends beekeeping classes. She tells me that some people do extraction in their kitchen, which is a messy and sticky job, while others simply strain their crushed honeycombs through cheesecloth into a bucket.

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